SuMA Committee members attended the Thanet District Council meeting last night (13th October 2016) to hear the Leader’s comments regarding the current position on Manston Airport in light of the Avia Report.
Councillor Chris Wells spoke about Manston in his Leader’s Report saying:
“Then there’s the local plan, an evidence based document which initially began in 2011 but is still not complete. The council must complete this plan to convince Planning Inspectors there is good cause for our land use decisions.
Currently, the Manston Airport site is purely reserved for Aviation, but the airport has been closed for two years, and we needed to show evidence to maintain that in any emerging plan we could stick with that aviation use only. This was the background to commissioning the report on airport viability by specialist consultancy AVIA.
Avia met with both RiverOak and Sir Roger Gale to understand their view of the sustainability of freight hub operations at Manston yet still concluded that airport operations at Manston are very unlikely to be financially viable in the longer term.
RiverOak have now had four chances to impress. They failed as an indemnity partner in 2014, they failed as an indemnity partner 2015,they failed to take advantage of a city financier who was seeking to invest £150m; and have now failed to demonstrate their case to AVIA as well.
I am saddened for the campaigners, whose battle to maintain their dream of an airport has been both valiant and brave. Manston has an important heritage, but any future for the airport has to be evidenced with real numbers; something Riveroak have signally failed to produce to date.
Any mixed used designation does not exclude aviation use, so Riveroak need to pull some serious evidence out of the bag in the coming weeks to demonstrate the potential for a working airport. Two rounds of soft market testing; reports on viability; the lack of interest from recognised players in the aviation market place all demand an answer. So it really is time for Riveroak to show whether they can, or cannot, provide a serious business case for an airport. Otherwise, in the words of Tory Chancellor, Philip Hammond: “when times change we must change with them.”
Opposition Leader, Bob Bayford’s reply was:
“I’m glad that you did mention the airport though, glad that you did that, because you were elected almost solely on the promise of planes flying again from Manston. But for over a year now everybody’s noticed that you’ve gone a bit cool on the idea. Nobody’s quite sure why, but you have.
You have also rushed to embrace the Avia Report with remarkable alacrity but the facts are that a report commissioned about two years ago by this council actually concluded that it could be viable to run an airport at Manston provided there was someone prepared to invest significant capital sums – well I’ve got news for you Mr Wells, there is somebody – it’s RiverOak. They weren’t prepared to show their detailed plans to your consultants – I can understand that, because of commercial confidentiality.
The fact is they’ve carried on, they’ve asked for no help from this council, they are seeking to put an airport back there, they are pursuing a DCO and despite your election pledge you have never once shown any support whatsoever.
After a presentation by one of the Avia consultants, when he stated that experts who predicted a significant increase in air freight demand in the UK, based their propositions on a hypothesis that he didn’t accept. Now that tells me that, had TDC picked a different consultant, they might have got a different result. They might have got a consultant that said that it could be viable as the one two years ago did. I’ve got to tell you that my group believes the dream of Manston being operational still lives.
I believe that there are many others in this chamber that share that dream and I hope that when the time comes they are brave enough to stand up and be counted. You can’t play fast and loose with the electorate Cllr Wells “
The Leader’s comments may be a little premature. There are many who are sceptical about the validity of the Avia Report. There are many Councillors who are still very much onside with the plans for an airport.
SuMA have found many discrepancies between the brief and the report itself and RiverOak are due to publish a full report next week which will call many points into question.
From a previous statement posted earlier today by RiverOak,
“RiverOak is working on a comprehensive rebuttal of the Avia Solutions report, which it plans to release early next week, highlighting how basic factual errors and questionable methodology, together with a decision to ignore six respected and publicly available air freight studies, has led to a set of conclusions about Manston Airport that are unsafe for Thanet Council to rely on and therefore render the report unusable.”
You can view the recording of the meeting below.